Who is at Fault in a Rear-End Accident?
Rear-end traffic accidents are among the most common car accidents in California and across the United States. Common sense would tell us that the rear driver is always at fault for a rear-end accident; however, each wreck is different. Every accident has specific facts about the drivers and the roadway that complicate the assignment of fault.
California Law and Determining Fault in a Rear End Collision
Typically, a rear-end collision happens when a driver is hit from behind by a car following them. In many cases, a rear-end collision is caused by the negligence of the rear driver – they are either:
- driving too fast or;
- driving while distracted and hit the driver in front.
However, this is not always the case. California has specific rules to prevent rear-end collisions that may – in a small number of cases – assign liability to the front driver.
Rear-End Accident Caused by Speeding or Changing Speed
Under California Vehicle Code Section 22350, drivers must maintain a reasonable driving speed. Therefore, when a trailing car is driving too fast and collides with a car in front of them, the rear driver will likely be liable for excessive speed. However, speed goes both ways. A front driver that drops their speed dramatically by slamming on their brakes may also potentially be liable for a rear-end collision.
Although the front driver may have a good reason to dramatically decrease their speed by applying their brakes, the act of brake-checking (intentionally applying brakes to promote distance between the front and rear driver) is not protected by law. It can be a dangerous practice causing liability for the brake-checking front driver.
U-Turn Rear End Collisions
Occasionally, incorrectly executing a U-turn may also confer liability on a front driver in a rear-end collision. Under California Vehicle Code Section 22100.5, drivers attempting to execute a U-turn must yield to oncoming traffic until it is safe to execute the turn. Sometimes, a driver attempting to make a U-turn will quickly execute the turn and pop in front of oncoming traffic, depriving motorists of enough time to slow down before colliding with a turning car. In this case, the front driver will more likely be liable for the accident.
Safe Distance-Related Collisions (“Tailgating”)
Drivers found liable for tailgating are virtually always the rear driver. Under California Vehicle Code Section 21703, drivers must maintain a safe distance from other automobiles in front of them. In addition, California law requires drivers to maintain a “reasonable and prudent” distance from other vehicles. Unfortunately, this provides little guidance as it is a subjective standard.
Many traffic safety experts and attorneys suggest maintaining at least a two-car length distance away from the front car whenever possible. So long as maintaining this distance does not place other automobiles in the rear at risk of collision (dramatically decreasing speed to achieve this distance), a driver will likely comply with the law.
Nearly all rear-end traffic collision cases revolve around a theory that one or more drivers involved in the accident were negligent. However, proving negligence is much more complicated than presenting evidence of a crash.
Three-Factor Test for Negligence
Under California law, a defendant sued by an injured party is negligent if their actions meet the following factors:
- The defendant owed a duty of care to the plaintiff.
- The defendant’s actions breached that owed duty of care.
- The defendant’s actions were a substantial factor that caused the plaintiff’s injuries.
Presumption of Negligence
In most rear-end collisions, the rear driver is presumed to be the negligent party. Whether the rear driver was speeding, tailgating, driving while texting, or operating a faulty vehicle (for example, poor brakes), the rear driver is likely the negligent driver. However, the rear driver may rebut the presumption of negligent by presenting evidence that the front driver was negligent. Examples of the front driver’s negligence may include:
- Unsafe lane changes
- Brake checking
- Failure to employ a proper turning signal
- Malfunctioning taillights
Comparative Negligence Defense
Once a rear driver has rebutted the presumption of negligence, the rear driver can then present evidence that the overall damage calculation of the accident should be shared between both parties. California has adopted a pure comparative fault system, which means two or more parties liable for negligence share the cost of damages.
Contact Rear End Accident Lawyers Curtis Legal Group and schedule a Free Consultation
The rear end accident attorneys at Curtis Legal Group know just how difficult the fallout of a car accident can be when you’ve been injured. When a rear end accident injures you or someone you love, our legal team will aggressively fight for you. Contact us to begin your case investigation today.